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Jacqueline Belpre hung up the telephone on her littered desk and stared at the man who was standing before her. He was splendid in his navy blazer and pale gray slacks. His black hair waved gracefully back from his broad, tanned forehead. He smelled of expensive, sensuous cologne which was at the same time characteristically discreet.
Handsome enough, she appraised, and obviously not poverty-stricken. He was a refreshing change. Most of the men who came into her office at Osprey Builders were dressed in tattered blue jeans, dirty T-shirts, and work boots, layered with grime and reeking of sweat and surreptitious beers.
"I'm Christopher Warden," he introduced himself, unsmiling, as though she should already know his reason for being there and possibly his life story. He placed a long cardboard carrying tube on her desk and tugged nonchalantly at the collar of his pale blue shirt, which was open at the throat, showing a wisp of black hair.
"Jacqui Belpre," she said, eagerly extending her hand across the space between them as she got to her feet. As president and chief salesperson of Osprey, it behooved her to appear outgoing and friendly, even if this character showed all the cordiality of a prickly pear.
"Leisure Discovery," he said, barely touching her hand with his. "We would like you to bid on our latest project."
"Oh, yes," Jacqui said, picking up the tube, reading the label and putting it down again. "The luxury cottages on your Egret Island property. I've heard people talking about that, and I'd like to bid, but I just don't have the time to devote to a presentation before your deadline. If you'll excuse me, I have to get outto my model house at the Shelter Cove development."
"Miss Belpre, I also have a personal matter to discuss with you," Christopher Warden said, a note of urgency in his clipped Bostonian tone, quite unexpected on the west central Gulf Coast of Florida, north of the Tampa Bay area.
"I beg your pardon?" Jacqui asked, studying his serious gray eyes, cold and immutable as granite.
Christopher Warden cleared his throat and commanded her attention. "I could have had a messenger deliver these specifications, or ignored your firm completely, Miss Belpre," he said with growing agitation, drawing himself up to his full height, which was an impressive six foot two of three, she judged. "But there is the matter between your brother and my sister."